Sunrise at Angkor Wat

One of my special memories of Siem Reap are the two mornings, when I went over to Angkor Wat at 5am to watch the sun rise over the beautiful temple complex. It was such a beautiful experience and there were fewer people around compared to the crowds later in the day.

While writing my post on Siem Reap this week, I was going through the photos I took at Angkor and I felt like sharing this collection of 12 sunrise photos at Angkor Wat first.

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My strongest recommendation to travelers visiting Angkor Wat would be to experience the sun rise over Angkor Wat, enjoying the place in peace and quiet before the crowds arrive. It is also easier to explore the place in the morning than under the energy draining afternoon sun.

Have you experienced a sunrise over Angkor Wat? Hope this photo collection has made you want to visit Angkor Wat, if you haven’t already done so!

[I am linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday, hosted by Snow in Tromso, Lauren on Location, The Sunny Side of This and What a Wonderful World]
Wanderful Wednesday

A Hole In My Shoe

Special Six: Paris Highlights

Travelling for the first time to Paris, when you are in your early twenties, is an enchanting experience. A magical age, when you are at the interface between shedding one’s youth while still retaining some starry eyed dreams such as an enchanting trip to Paris. So you can imagine my delight when my mother told me that she was transferring the prize, she won in a raffle draw, to me. Yes, her prize was a return ticket to Paris. As one of my friends had moved to Paris with her family, and had extended an open invitation to stay with them when I visited the city, my accommodation was also sorted out. In the autumn of 2002, one of my then top travel wishes on my bucket list was fulfilled.

I diligently covered all the trails that I had read and dreamed about. From my week in Paris, the following six remain my treasured experiences.

  • Walking around the arrondissements:

Walking must have been my favourite activity in Paris. This was years before my road traffic accident so I was able to walk long distances without easily tiring. I enjoyed wandering around the arrondissements on the left and right banks of river Seine, namely the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th arrondissements, simply taking in the vibes of the places I passed by. I enjoyed coming across both expected and unexpected pleasant surprises. Coming across the pretty Église Saint Julien le Pauvre, a Melkite Greek catholic church built in the 13th century, was an unexpected surprise as I had not marked it on my walking route previously.

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Another unexpected pleasant encounter was the black cat that came to greet me as I looked around Shakespeare and Co.

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I did expect to be impressed by the medieval Gothic architecture of Notre Dame cathedral and I was.

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Walking around the lovely streets of Paris, I especially loved it when the delicious smells of a bakery would waft past me and tempt me to stop and try out some delicious baked treat. I came away from Paris with an impression there was a bakery on every corner.

  • Sacre Coeur and Montmartre

Simply breathtaking. There are no other words for it. I had seen so many photos of it, prior to my travel, and had been anticipating the visit here a lot. My friend and I explored the place, taking the funicular up and later, climbing down the crowded stairs on our way back. Making our way down to the tiny square, stopping for an ice-cream cone, and then meandering around Montmartre and of course, visiting the Place du Tertre.Sacre Couer

  • Sorbonne

I really enjoyed walking around Sorbonne. Christine, another of my friends in Paris and a former colleague from my gap year of teaching in Stockholm, was also in the city then. Since we had planned to meet up for lunch, I had asked that we meet up at her favourite neighbourhood in Paris. We met at Sorbonne, her alma mater and walked around the beautiful place. It was at a cafe here that I tried out French onion soup for the first time, as Christine recommended it as the quintessential French cuisine.

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  • Musée d’Orsay

I was enjoying walking around a lot that I did not particularly want to go into museums and have the day pass by indoors. However, I am glad I decided to visit this lovely museum housed in a former railway station in the 7th arrondissement, based on the strong recommendation of my research supervisor. The museum was smaller, easily navigable, than the overwhelming and crowded Louvre and I was able to enjoy the painting collection better.

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  • River Seine cruise

I have always been partial to cruises, whether on a lake, river or sea. So of course, I had to take a boat cruise on the River Seine, which I enjoyed very much.

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  • Eiffel Tower

I had expected that this would top my favourite list, before travelling to Paris, and this was one of the first places I visited. My friend had actually discouraged me going to the top of the tower, mentioning that it was not all that great an experience. However, since I had wanted to go to the top of Eiffel tower for a very long time, I didn’t mind the long wait in the queue for our tickets. I felt sorry for my friend’s nephew though, who was fidgeting the whole time, so it is probably not a great idea when travelling around with kids. I did enjoy visiting the tower and I even visited Montparnasse tower to have a different view of Eiffel tower from its top.

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Six plus One highlight: My friend’s family were keen to take me on a day trip out of Paris, though I was content to simply continue exploring Paris’ fascinating arrondissements. After some discussion, we agreed on the Palace of Versailles. When we arrived there, we saw the immense crowds and the ticket counter for the palace tour had a very long queue in front of it. I did not want to wait in the long queue nor did I think that my friend’s nephew and niece would appreciate the wait either. So, I suggested we take the palace gardens tour instead, since they had anyway visited the palace before, which turned out to be a lot of fun. We ended our trip with a picnic and some rowing on the lake, which everyone including the kids enjoyed and left me with a wonderful memory, of the palace of Versailles as a lovely day trip out of Paris.

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I found my first visit to Paris enchanting, though I know if I were to revisit now, the focus of my exploration would be different.

How did you find your first visit to Paris?

[I am linking this up to City Tripping #33, hosted by Wander Mum and Mummy Travels]

Wander Mum

Whale watching off the coast of Mirissa

Just after Weligama and just before reaching Matara town proper, one comes to Mirissa in the south coast of Sri Lanka. The Mirissa water sports club near the Mirissa harbour offers whale watching tours. Some of the best whale watching around this island country is off the coast of Mirissa and is an experience not to be missed.

Staying at one of the cosy guesthouses on the beach, my friends and I woke up early one January morning in 2011 and made our way to the Mirissa harbour. Opposite the harbour entrance was the office of the water sports club. We checked in and were taken to our boat in the harbour. Donning the bright orange life jackets given us, we got on to the boat with much anticipation.

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As our boat left the harbour, it was lovely to see the little colourful fishing boats bobbing against the blue sea. With the wind and sea spray lashing against our faces, we set off to see the elusive whales on a four hour tour.

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All our eyes scanned the surface hoping to catch that first glimpse of spray spouted out of the water, the tell-tale sign of a whale in the vicinity. The boat crew did tell us stories where not a single whale had been sighted and of other expeditions, where so many had been. They mentioned that luck played a key role in whether we would be able to see any whales that day as did the weather conditions. One by one, the passengers started succumbing to either sea-sickness or plain boredom and by 10.30 a.m., the time for the tour to end, most were ready to simply return to land even though we had not spotted anything.

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However, thankfully, our boat crew were whale enthusiasts and were determined to search for the whales and they decided to move further out to the sea so our boat headed further south. It was nice to imagine that if we continued in that path, we would end up on the Antarctic continent, a region that I have long dreamt of exploring.

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As the sun continued to mercilessly beat down upon us, one of the crew suddenly shouted out an alert. A water-spout had been spotted in the distance. Everyone rushed to the rails hoping to catch a glimpse and those who brought their binoculars were lucky to see a bit more than those without. One of the boat crew explained to us that the whale we had spotted was a Byrde whale. Byrde whales – a type of Baleen whale (the toothless ones, as I refer to them) was common around the southern coast of Sri Lanka. These whales had been named after Johan Byrde, the Norwegian consul to South Africa, who set up the first whaling station in Durban.

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We spotted a couple more of the Byrde whales or perhaps it was the same set occasionally appearing along our path.

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Then, suddenly, the boat crew excitedly pointed to one direction and said that it was a blue whale. Given our own lack of awareness on the shape of the tail flukes, we couldn’t confirm it. However, I felt something powerful within me – a feeling of awe and great respect of being in the presence of such a magnificient whale. I was very much moved. The boat crew handed around cream crackers to celebrate the moment as well as the fact that most of us had not had any breakfast. The huge whale then suddenly dived into the ocean’s depth.

We then had some visitors as pods of dolphins, which I learnt is actually a type of toothed whale, came to meet us or rather our boat and swam alongside the boat.

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The reaction of all the human beings in the boat to the arrival of the dolphins was quite touching. Everyone instantly had a smile on their face and were responding happily to the carefree abandon of the dolphins who were joyfully playing around. At one point, the boat stopped at the request of some passengers who promptly jumped off the boat, in their enthusiasm, to swim with the dolphins. I felt it was a bit irresponsible of both the swimmers and the boat crew as we were in the middle of the ocean and the marine life was not habituated to humans as in aquariums. The dolphins vanished within seconds as quickly as they had approached us. The swimmers climbed back on board and the boat turned landward as we started our trip back.

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Our adventure did not stop with the dolphins and our ever watchful boat crew started shouting excitedly pointing to one direction. We all looked and sure, we could see a couple of whales lounging on the surface. The boat headed directly towards the pair and I worried that we were either disturbing the whales or that the whales might get annoyed and attack our boat. The pair of whales however did not seem bothered by our approach and actually allowed us to approach them.

Our boat guide informed us that this was a sperm whale. The whale was looking at us as we drew close and there was a stench emanating from the whale.

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After a few minutes of continuing to float on the surface, the whale decided to dive back into the ocean and we were treated to a spectacular close up of the dive and tail cutting through the water.

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Happy, tired and sun-burnt, we headed back to the shore around 1.30 p.m., our whale watching trip having been extended in our collective enthusiasm. A remarkable day and experience and most recommended during a visit to the southern coast.

Since that trip, I saw a documentary by a marine biologist studying the seas off Sri Lanka’s southern coast. According to the researcher, this area is a permanent residence habitat of whales, and other marine life, as the conditions are just right for them there in terms of feeding and water temperature. While I do worry that reckless whale watching tours will disturb the whales, I do think that responsible marine tourism is important. For me, that whale watching experience created a lasting interest and concern about marine life and how shipping lines, fishing and other human being induced factors disrupt and harm marine life.

[I am linking this post to:

*Wanderful Wednesday, hosted by Snow in Tromso, Lauren on Location, The Sunny Side of Thisand What a Wonderful World

**The Weekly Postcard, hosted by Travel Notes & BeyondA Hole in My Shoe, As We Saw It, Eff it, I’m On HolidaySelim Family Raasta]
Wanderful Wednesday

A Hole In My Shoe

Special Six: Weekend in Malé

I was beginning to feel a little burned out at work towards latter 2010. I felt I needed to travel someplace outside the country, to re-energize myself and to regain my focus. Somewhere where I could simply relax, without going about much. My travel budget was almost non-existent since I had undertaken a major travel earlier in the year so my options were quite limited. My colleague and friend, who had traveled me with a couple of times in the previous year, also felt the same. It was while discussing that it emerged that I had sufficient air miles for two return tickets to Maldives and that my friend had a Maldivian friend from university, who had invited her for a visit. So that is how the two of us ended up going to Malé, one October weekend, after checking that it was ok with her friend to host me as well.

The capital of Maldives is a place that travelers usually skim past on their way to the resort islands. Our weekend though was based in Malé and we enjoyed it very much. This must have been the first trip that I had taken without reading something about the place before going there.
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I discovered several things that endeared Malé to me:

  1. It was the first time that I had landed at the international airport, in the capital of a country, which was on its own island. We had to take the airport ferry from the airport island to the city.

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2. Walking around Malé was fascinating. I felt that if I were somewhere in the middle of the city, it would take me at most 15 – 20 mins to walk to any end of the island. The island has an area of 5.8 km2. The narrow streets, in the residential areas, were rather charming. I would have expected that the lack of space would have prevented the use of vehicles but there were so many motorbikes parked everywhere, as well as cars plying the main roads.

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Our host’s mother, whom we visited a few times during our visit, mentioned that bicycles had been the most common mode of transport in the city decades ago and lamented the influx of automobiles with increase in wealth generated from tourism. She still continued to use her bicycle to get about the city.

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3. The beautiful waters. I haven’t seen shades of blue of the sea as I saw them around Malé, and I didn’t even go to the less inhabited islands. We enjoyed taking short rides, on public ferries, simply to go across the waters. Most of my photos from my weekend are of the sea. It was beautiful.

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4. Since we did not have any specific plan for our weekend, besides relaxing, we were content going out on leisurely walks on our own or with our host. During these leisurely, slow-paced moments, I experienced something that I felt was sort of unique to Maldivians – at least to those living in Malé. We would start from the apartment, just the three of us – our host, my friend and I, and we would walk over to her mother’s place for a chat and then meander to another relative’s place, all the while the group becoming bigger as some relatives or friends would add to the group continuing on, while others remained behind at a house. It was such a relaxed group all the way, but was full of surprises as one didn’t exactly know where one would end up or how many would remain in the group at the next place we stopped at. One evening, we ended up at the rooftop restaurant of a hotel, which was our host’s favourite. Another night, we ended up by the jetty area, where there was an open air concert organized by Alliance Française.

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5. I enjoyed my Maldivian breakfasts of roshi and mashuni on the lovely rooftop area, at the nearby Seagull cafe. While roshi and mashuni resembles one of the popular breakfasts of Sri Lanka, roti and pol sambol, in its description, it does taste and look different. We did try out a couple of other restaurants for some meals, but this was my favourite meal in Maldives, besides the one I had at the home of our host’s mother.

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Photo credit: Never Ending Footsteps/ Lauren Juliff

6. We were in Malé, coincidentally on the weekend Maldives was hosting the Hay literary festival. The festival was being held at Aarah island, the official private island retreat of the President of Maldives, which had been opened up to the public for the first time to host the Hay festival. Since our host’s mother was talking about her recently published work at one of the evening sessions, our hosts and some of their relatives wanted to go for that particular session. We had to hire a speed boat, as there was no public ferry at the time the group made it to the jetty. Going on a speedboat was so much fun and we made it just in time for the session. After the session, we walked around the island, enjoying some food and exploring the island. I remember the food stalls, live music, the carnival atmosphere but for some reason, that I don’t exactly remember, the only photos I took at the island that night was of the coconut trees. So, here’s one of those photos of the Aarah island coconut tree 🙂
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It was a delightful weekend, very much relaxed and filled with lots of wonderful conversations particularly with our host’s creative mother, good food, leisurely walks and surrounded by beautiful waters.

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Have you visited Maldives? What were your impressions of Malé?

[I have linked this post to:

*Monday Escapes #37, hosted by My Travel Monkey and Packing My Suitcase

**City Tripping #32, hosted by Mummy Travels and Wander Mum]

Travel Monkey
MummyTravels

Special Six: London Surprises

Walks around London’s numerous historic streets and avenues, visits to interesting museums and palaces, cruises on the Thames, picnics in the numerous, lovely parks are must-try experiences in London. Often though, it is the unplanned or unexpected experiences that become the most memorable. So here are some of my favourites of the pleasant, diverse surprises that London welcomed me with. Perhaps you might want to try out one or more of them?

  • Clipper Round The World Race:

My friend liked the restaurants at St. Katherine docks and suggested we go to the Turkish restaurant Kilikyas for lunch during the last weekend of August 2015. We noticed that there was a huge crowd, loud music and a carnival spirit outside the restaurant. Since it was the first time I was going there, I initially assumed that perhaps this was a vibrant spot in London which celebrated each weekend. It was when the drum beats started and announcements were made that I realized that some special event was going on. So once we finished lunch, we decided to go and have a look and realized that it was a race, the launch of the clipper round the world race. We managed to find a little spot where we were able to view the dock area from where the clippers left one by one.

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It was so much fun cheering the boats as they left for the 8 leg, 14 race, 11 month journey of over 40,000 nautical miles around the world. Apparently, the race does not require team members to be experienced sailors. The selected teams undergo a four level training in the UK or Australia.

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Our favourite was Team Britain’s beautiful clipper, with its 54 member crew, participating in different legs of the race and sponsored by the UK government’s ‘GREAT Britain’ campaign since 2013.

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Photo credit: Bindu Nanu

We then walked over the tower bridge to see the parade of the sails as the twelve clippers waited for the Tower bridge to open. Qingdao sponsored by the Chinese city of Qingdao, which is the longest serving team sponsor and host port since 2005/06, led the parade.

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The race of the Americas from Panama to USA, race 11, was completed last week and the teams arrived in New York with Team ClipperTelemed+  winning this race. The website has a page for viewing where the clippers are in the ongoing race as well as a table with the team positions for the overall race. Currently, Team LMAX Exchange is in the overall lead and Team Britain in the third.

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Race 12 from New York to Londonderry will start on June 20th. The final race, race 14, is expected to finish at St. Katherine’s docks in London on July 30th when the teams sail in from Den Helder, The Netherlands. So, if you are in London that saturday, do visit St. Katherine docks, enjoy a meal at one of the numerous restaurants there and welcome the returning clippers.

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Photo credit: Bindu Nanu

Don’t you find the clipper race exciting? If you want to participate, you can actually do so by sending in your application to join a team in the 2017/18 or 2018/19 clipper races.

  • London School of Economics (LSE) Public Talks

Universities do have a tradition of hosting public talks but while at LSE, I found that the LSE calendar for public lectures was packed each term. I found it amazing that so many interesting leaders and influencers from around the world were invited to give a talk almost each evening. The lectures are free and usually on a first come, first served basis, so generally there are long queues. For some talks, registration and collecting the free tickets prior to the day of talk is required.

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So, why not check the public events page of a universit(y)ies specializing in your areas of interest and go for one of the lectures? I liked the LSE public events the best and I am somewhat biased here.

  • Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club

Inspired by the New York jazz scene, Ronnie Scott and his friend Pete King, both tenor saxophonists, opened up the jazz club in 1959. The club moved to its present location on Frith street in 1965. Jazz legends Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Stan Getz, Wes Montgomery and many more have played here and contemporary ones continue to drop by. The jazz club was recommended to me as the best place in London for some great, live jazz music by one of the baristas, at my favourite coffee shop in London, who is a part-time jazz musician.

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Photo credit: Kat Arney@ Kat Arney

I went there twice to try out both the jazz bar and club. The main club venue downstairs hosts ticketed jazz events and it is a special experience where you can enjoy some wonderful, live jazz music while dining on some delicious food. Upstairs @Ronnie’s is a bar where live jazz music is played every evening. While the doors to the bar opens at 6pm, and you can enter free till 7pm after which there is a small cover charge, live music only begins at 9pm. Upstairs bar is a place which you can go to regularly with friends or on your own.

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Photo credit: Chelsea@ Chelseas40before40

  • Taiko Drumming

This activity will definitely not be something you think of when considering a London experience. However, given the multicultural essence of the city, it was fitting that I was able to try it out while in London. My friend and I had gone to Festival Asia at Tobacco dock in Docklands. While there, we tried out a mini taiko drumming workshop by Mark Alcock. Mark taught us to play a short, original composition as a group. Not only did I find it so much fun to try out the drums, I found it such a wonderful team-building/ de-stressing activity that I contacted Mark at Taiko Meantime, and organized a workshop for a group of friends at university to celebrate the end of exams. Taiko Meantime conducts regular classes as well as special workshops, at their premises or at a location of your choice, if you are in a large group. So, do contact them if you want a taste of Japan, in London, through some Taiko drumming.

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Photo credit: Riddhi Shah

  • Pottery café

I came across the pottery café when I was searching for a special fun activity to enjoy with my friend and her daughter – something that both adults and children could participate in. The café offers group sessions, where you are given instructions, before you paint the pottery using child safe, water based, non-toxic paints. There is a studio fee of £5.99 per person, for the use of the materials, plus the cost of the hand-made pottery that you have selected to paint on. The cafe also serves hot and cold beverages, as well as some cakes and cookies, to enjoy while painting. I booked us a session at the Fulham cafe branch one weekend. Once you finish painting, you hand it in so that the painted pottery can be sent to their workshop to be finished in the kiln. You will receive a collection receipt and you can collect the finished pottery, normally a week later.

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Photo credit: Bindu Nanu

  • Crown Court Church of Scotland:

This church has been active in London since King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England in 1603. The church has been at its present site in Covent garden from 1719, though the present building was built in 1909. I came across an online article mentioning the Crown court church of Scotland in Covent Garden as the place to celebrate St. Andrew’s day in London. I looked up St. Andrew’s day and found that it was the day of the patron saint of Scotland, Greece and a few other countries. From the what’s on calendar on the church website, I also found the Rambling and Social Club entry mentioning a St. Andrew’s night party on November 29th and that all were welcome.

Since it was indicated that all were welcome to the party, a small group of friends and I decided to drop by the church that evening. What we came across was not quite what we had expected, something in the lines of a church service for St. Andrew’s day, and neither were we what the endearing group of elderly church members expected. Though surprised, they warmly welcomed us to join in for the tea and shared a little background about the church history as well as gave us a quick tour of the church chapel upstairs. We were also invited to join in for their future monthly club gatherings, especially for the Burns night celebrations. I was touched by their warm hospitality and wanted to make them something for one of their monthly gatherings as I noticed that each person had brought some homemade food to the tea party. So, I made a Sri Lankan semolina sweet dish and revisited the group for the club’s christmas party at the church in December. It was a lovely tea party with a trivia quiz at the end.

I found the experience delightful, not only because it was unexpected, but because it provided the space for meaningful interaction. I also received suggestions of places to visit in Scotland.

The church is definitely worth a visit, when you are in London, and as the Rambling and Social Club page mentions, all are welcome to attend the activities mentioned in their calendar.

Which of these surprises would you want to try out, during your next visit to London? What is one of your favourite travel surprises?

[I am linking this post to Wanderful WednesdayThe Weekly PostcardCity Tripping #36, and Weekend Travel Inspiration]

Wanderful Wednesday

A Hole In My Shoe
MummyTravels
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Special Six: London Cafés

I enjoy trying out cafés. I love it when I find a small independent café that does not only serve great coffee with baked treats, or great brunches, but also has wonderful ambience and customer service. When it comes to London, like many cities around the world, one is spoiled for choice. The below six are my favourites from the ones I tried out several times during my wanderings.

  • Ground Control Café:

I was walking along Amwell Street one lovely Spring morning, when I came across this little gem of a coffee shop. Conveniently located to where I lived then, Ground Control in Islington serves great Ethiopian coffee and delicious baked treats. Bustling with a constant flow of customers mostly from the neighbourhood coming in for coffee to go, the more I visited the place, the more I felt a sense of community around the coffee shop and the street. The café soon became my favourite coffee place in London. As exam time approached and I avoided the packed university library, I found it easier to do my reading here. The staff was friendly and welcoming of my spending a few hours there each morning, studying at my little corner at the window, taking short breaks for boosts of coffee and a cardamom brownie or almond croissant or a lunch of toasties and a little chat. When I had to move to another neighbourhood for the summer break, this was the place that I missed the most in Angel.

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Photo credit: Bex@Double Skinny Macchiato

  • FreeState Coffee:

When I came across this coffee place on Southampton Row, I immediately liked the decor of the cafe and of course, the coffee. I was introduced to the V60 drip and piccolo here. As FreeState was conveniently located near Holborn, this was the place that I usually suggested for meeting with friends and acquaintances. I also came here to catch up on my reading sometimes.

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Photo credit: Fatma Al-Baiti@Fatma vs Food

  • Counter Cafe

One of my friends, Fatma, enjoys exploring and reviewing restaurants and cafes. She found this cafe in Hackney Wick and organized a brunch meet up here one weekend. It took me nearly an hour, and a change of two buses, to travel to this place and when I saw what looked like a warehouse at the end of an empty street, I wondered why anyone would want to travel so far to have a sunday morning brunch here. I tried their food and felt that it was the best brunch I had in a long while. Despite the distance, their food alone pulled me back a couple of times before I left London. The canal side cafe and roastery, with views of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, shares building space with an art gallery and workshop.

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Photo credit: Fatma Al-Baiti@Fatma vs Food

  • FoxCroft & Ginger

Cruffins were what drew me to this cafe in Soho. As I had never tried them before and an online article mentioned that their cruffins sold out each morning very quickly, I had to try them out. The cruffins were delicious but I also found that they had a delicious brunch and lunch menu, which included a delicious kimchi burger.

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Photo credit: Jinghua Zhang

  • Bagariet

Bagariet in Covent garden is actually a bakery with a tiny seating area, where you can enjoy fika, with a cup of Swedish coffee and baked treat. Ever since I was introduced to kanelbullar in Stockholm back in 2000, I am quite fussy about cinnamon buns matching the Swedish taste. So, I was delighted to find this little bakery hidden away in Rose street.

Photo credit: Fatma Al-Baiti@Fatma vs Food
  • Dishoom

I had read great reviews about this place and so, one day, some friends and I decided to try the one in Covent Garden. The cafe, styled on the Irani cafes of Bombay,  is a visual treat with old photos from Bombay crowding the walls. They also serve tasty food and great spicy chai. It is an all-day cafe/ restaurant, with a few branches around the city, and which gets crowded in the evenings so best to make a reservation in advance.

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Photo credit: Fatma Al-Baiti@Fatma vs Food

What are your favourite cafes in London? 

To view this article in the GPSmyCity app, please follow this link on your iPhone or iPad.

[I am linking this post to City Tripping #31 hosted by Wander Mum and Mummy Travels]

 

Special Six: London Theatres

To be able to return to university, after a decade of immersing yourself in an intense and hectic career, is like being given a cherished gift. I was given that opportunity to return for a year to university life in 2014 and best of all, to my university of choice in London, through the Chevening scholarship programme. So of course my travelling soul perked up. In addition to looking forward to the academic studies, I was looking forward to exploring London’s nooks and corners as well as travelling around the UK. I had actually mapped out lists of places I simply had to visit during my year there before I even left Sri Lanka. Arriving in London during the chilly fall season, to a room on the top floor of a building whose lift was undergoing repairs that term, resulted in old injuries from a road traffic accident acting up. Having to undergo osteopathy to deal with the pain, and experiencing limitations in my mobility, dampened my travel plans. So, I had to shift the expectations of my mind to let go of travel plans and simply enjoy the moment as it came wherever I was, when I could.

That is when I looked again at London, all the attractions that I had wanted to sample, and see which ones were still feasible for me. What I immediately focused upon was the theatre. Of all the cities I have lived in or travelled to, London for me is most synonymous with the theatre. You practically come across a theatre (s) on every street in the west end. As a huge fan of the theatre, I prioritized experiencing not just different theatre offerings but also different theatres.

So, here’s my list of six theatre favourites from the twelve I had the opportunity of experiencing and some tips on discounts, where applicable, as theatre experiences are quite expensive.

  • The National Theatre:
National-Theatre-Jan-2015-credit-Philip-Vile

Photo credit: National Theatre/ Philip Vile

This lovely theatre on the South Bank, supported by the Arts Council England, is my favourite not only because it puts on great plays but also offers great discounted tickets. I enjoyed Tom Stoppard’s The Hard Problem at Dorfman theatre, an adaptation of Carol Ann Duffy’s Everyman at Olivier theatre and the ultra-long George Bernard Shaw play Man and Superman, with Ralph Fiennes, at Lyttelton theatre. The theatre’s £15 travelex and £20 Friday rush tickets make the experience more affordable. For those interested in theatre productions, the Sherling High-Level Walkway in the Dorfman theatre offers visitors a glimpse into the production workshops and there are regular free exhibitions held in the Lyttelton lounge and Wolfson gallery at Olivier theatre. A further bonus is that all three theatres at the National are very accessible.

  • Theatre Royal Haymarket:
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Photo credit: Theatre Royal Haymarket

I liked the origins of this lovely theatre with its modest beginnings and tumultuous history – a theatre started in 1720 by John Potter, a carpenter, without the royal patent required then for being able to run a theatre but which soon built its reputation as a professional theatre. Located close to Piccadilly, it is quite easy to reach. I watched the moving play by Hayhurst, Taken at Midnight, with Penelope Wilton and Pomerance’s The Elephant man with Bradley Cooper. The only hitch is that accessibility is only for the stall seats, which are very expensive. I had to climb up two flights of stairs to reach the more affordable upper circle seating area so it was good that I waited till my leg had recovered fully in spring to go to this theatre. While there weren’t discounted tickets on offer like the National Theatre, booking in advance might help with access to the cheaper priced tickets available.

  • Theatre Royal Drury Lane:
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Photo credit: Theatre Royal Drury Lane

The historic theatre, the oldest theatre in England still in use since the 17th century, is worth visiting. While the popular, long, running musical at this theatre currently is Charlie and the chocolate factory, I went here for a concert of Celtic Woman. Here too, one needs to climb up the stairs to go to the relatively cheaper seating areas.

  • Lyceum Theatre:
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Photo credit: Lyceum Theatre

With a history going back to 1772, the theatre became the first in England to incorporate a balcony projecting over the circle, when it re-opened in 1834. After a fire destroyed the theatre, the present building was re-opened in 1907. I went to see the Lion King musical, my favourite musical, with one of my best friends and her daughter back in 2010 during an earlier brief visit to the city. My friend’s kid loved it so much that she declared she was going to be Nala when she grew up. The musical, a definite must-see with kids, is currently in its 16th year and still going strong.

  • Royal Opera House:
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Photo credit: Royal Opera House

The beautiful Royal Opera House is located in Covent Garden. The present theatre was built in 1858, after the first built in 1732 and the second built in 1808 was burnt down by fires. Experiencing this beautiful building and a ballet or opera performance inside is a must-do for the London visitor or resident. For those with UK student IDs, there is a special package called the ROH student, where highly discounted tickets for certain performances are provided. I understand these discounts are often sponsored by ROH patrons. One of the two ballet performances that I went to see was the Paul Hamlyn Christmas Treat, Alice in wonderland, for which the tickets were subsidized by the Helen Hamlyn trust fund. My stall seat ticket was at the token cost of £1. The place is easily accessible and does not have difficult stairs to navigate.

  • Arcola Theatre:
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Photo credit: Arcola Theatre/ Miriam Mahony

I was searching for smaller theatres that staged small productions on contemporary issues and came across Arcola Theatre at Dalston, in the east of London. The theatre has small, cosy studios and there is very much a relaxed atmosphere there with audience members often interacting with each other. I went for three performances at Arcola and each was unique and focused on contemporary issues. From a musical about a cancer patient going through a transformative experience at her clinic (Happy Ending) to a triad of short plays on women and the Arab revolutions (The Singing Stones) to the ultra-controversial (Sex workers’ opera), the Arcola offerings are bold and thought-provoking and generally draws extreme reactions from the audience. The tickets are priced around £10 to £20, though there is a ‘pay what you can’ tuesday evenings and the Arcola Passport for £50 allowing you a choice of 5 performances.

Bonus tip for groups: It is also worth it to contact the theatre and see if there are special group discounts. I went to see Miss Saigon at Prince Edward Theatre at a discounted group package of £10 pounds per ticket. Not sure if the discounts are for student groups but definitely worth checking out, if in a large group.

To check which shows are available this week or the official ticket prices, click this link to London Theatres.

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[I am linking up my London theatre wanderings Wanderful Wednesday and City Tripping #49]

Wanderful Wednesday

Wander Mum